Secure handling of Cabinet and Cabinet committee material and the Official Information Act 1982

Key points:

  • “Cabinet material” includes Cabinet and Cabinet committee agendas, papers, minutes, and memos.
  • You are responsible for ensuring that the Cabinet material you have access to is handled securely.
  • Cabinet material is classified as official information.  The minimum classification is “In Confidence”.
  • Highly classified Cabinet material (i.e. classified above Sensitive / Restricted”) cannot be uploaded to, or stored in, CabNet.  Instead, the hard copy paper based system applies to such material. Follow this link for CabGuide guidance on the hard copy processes.
  • If you have access to Cabinet material, you:
    • must store it securely;
    • must only pass it on to colleagues with a “need to know”;
    • must not email scanned copies.
  • The security classification printed on all Cabinet material determines the detailed handling requirements for transmitting, handling, storing, copying, and disposing.
  • Use the detailed guidance below to avoid unintended and unauthorised disclosure of Cabinet material.

What is a security classification and how are classifications identified?

A security classification specifies how people must protect the official information that they handle. 

The Official Information Act 1982 (OIA) provides for information to be protected to the extent consistent with the public interest and the preservation of personal privacy.

It is the responsibility of the originating department, or the Minister’s office, to determine the level of security classification applicable to Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers to ensure that the documents receive the appropriate level of protection. The minimum classification for Cabinet material is “In Confidence”.

Classifications in themselves do not allow official information to be withheld under the OIA. All requests under the OIA must be considered using the criteria in the Act, regardless of the classification given to the document concerned.

A security classification is printed at the top and bottom of every page of all Cabinet material:

  • In Confidence and Sensitive are classifications that require protection in the public interest or to preserve personal privacy.
  • Restricted, Confidential, Secret, and Top Secret classifications protect information concerned with national security.

A range of endorsements may also be used with security classifications to describe the nature of the information being protected (e.g. Budget, Commercial, Staff, Legally Privileged, Special Handling Required, and New Zealand Eyes Only).  Endorsements are not security classifications in their own right, and must not appear without a security classification.

Cabinet and Cabinet committee papers may also occasionally be personally addressed to Ministers and chief executives due to the sensitivity of the material. Such papers, which are intended to be seen by the addressee only, are marked “Addressee Only:” followed by the name of the recipient.

Highly classified Cabinet material (i.e. classified above Sensitive / Restricted) cannot be uploaded to, or stored in, CabNet. This material must be submitted to the Cabinet Office in hard copy, and will be distributed and stored according to the requirements of its security classification.

How should Cabinet material be handled?

Each document needs to be handled in accordance with its security classification. Those people who need to know information that is marked with a security classification and endorsement must hold at least the same security clearance of the information.

Documents must be kept securely, must only be passed on to colleagues who have a “need to know”, if scanned must only be scanned to appropriately secure departmental document management systems, or photocopied by authorised staff, and scans or photocopies of Cabinet material must not be emailed.

Refer to Drafting and Handling Cabinet Material.pdf [497 KB] for information on applying security classifications and the handling requirements for Cabinet material, including transmitting, handling, storage, copying, and disposal.

The Protective Security Requirements (PSR) outlines the government’s expectations for managing personnel, physical and information security. It sets out what agencies must and should consider to ensure they are managing security effectively, including detailed guidance on security classifications.

The Official Information Act 1982 and the release of Cabinet material

There is no blanket protection of Cabinet material from release under the Official Information Act 1982 (OIA).  Cabinet and Cabinet committee records are covered under the OIA in the usual way - irrespective of whether the record is stored and accessed in CabNet. Papers may include material that is likely to be withheld from public release to protect one or more of the interests recognised in the OIA.  If so, that material should be presented in a way that makes its status clear (e.g. under a heading entitled “Legal Advice”). 

Consideration should also be given to the security classification/endorsement of the paper.  While a security classification does not, in itself, provide good reason for withholding a Cabinet paper, it may provide a useful flag to indicate that there may be a good reason to withhold the document under the OIA.

See Chapter 8 of the Cabinet Manual for detailed guidance on the protection and disclosure of Cabinet records and other official information.  The Cabinet Office can also provide advice, and there is related information in Cabinet Office Notice (15) 3 Proactive Release of Cabinet Papers.  

CabNet access

Authorised users of CabNet are allocated to access groups within CabNet by their Organisation Administrator. Generally, membership of access groups determines the access that individuals have to submissions, papers and minutes in CabNet. The allocation to an access group, or groups, is determined through an individual’s role in an organisation and the portfolio/s they support.

Access to Cabinet material in CabNet should be provided to authorised users allocated to groups by an Organisation Administrator. Go to this CabGuide page for information on managing access to a submission in CabNet.